On New Year’s Day 2010, Amit Patel watched his beloved grandfather die. Only three months before, he was in excellent health. After several doctor visits for abdominal pains and bladder difficulties, he received the bad news: He was in the end stage of cancer. He spent his last days in the comfort of his own home with assistance through a hospice program.
On Friday evening, the Southern California Hospice Foundation held a wine-tasting fundraiser at the Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery. Patel and 12 volunteers from the Tau Kappa Epsilon social fraternity, whose members attend Cal State Fullerton, were an integral part of this event, volunteering their time to serve the guests hors d’ oeuvres and wine.
For the terminally ill patient, hospice care provides the tranquility of being home, surrounded by family and friends versus the sterile and impersonal hospital setting. Its goal is to improve the quality of a patient’s last days, providing comfort and dignity, from a team of specially trained heath care professionals and volunteers.
“Terminal illness takes a toll on the entire family. The care my grandfather received was amazing, especially watching the interaction and the love they showed him,” Patel said. “I really am grateful that in those last days he was comfortable and could say whatever he wanted to say, whenever. There were no communication gaps or misunderstandings.”
The cost of hospice and palliative care for the patient is covered through various federal and state funding such as Medicare and Medicaid health insurance. However, for those who do not qualify and for the extra costs imposed on family members, there are philanthropic organizations that help with the expenses and resources necessary through fundraisers and donations from the private sector.
Patel was determined to pay back the people who helped his grandfather. Last spring, he shared the story with his fraternity brothers and persuaded a small group to help out at a similar foundation’s casino night fundraiser. When asked to help with Friday’s event, he was surprised that the number of volunteers had more than doubled.
“They really helped make the event run smoothly,” said Michelle Wulfestieg, the foundation’s executive director. “We appreciate all their hard work. Their volunteering this evening saves the foundation a few thousand dollars in catering fees.”
Dressed in all-black semi-formal attire, the men worked in teams of two. Some were stationed at outdoor tables adorned with colorful, fresh flowers and white satin tablecloths. Petite white lights emitted a warm glow throughout the event.
Others were inside the winery’s “wine cave” where large gift baskets, wrapped in an assortment of crisp cellophane adorned with ribbons, lined the walls of the dimly lit cavernous underground room. Guests jotted bids on clipboards adjacent to an assortment of items from bottles of wine and jewelry to autographed memorabilia donated by celebrities such as Tony Hawk and Magic Johnson.
Serving in the wine cave, surrounded by guests dressed in brightly-colored evening wear, Andrew Garcia, 23, smiled and chatted as he poured a sample of dark red wine.
Garcia graduated last May with a degree in business administration and is currently seeking employment. He said part of the fraternity experience in volunteering for a cause provides the opportunity to give something back to the community.
“Part of the college experience is to join an organization. It helps you find your roots and your niche,” Garcia said. “Working this type of event helps shape the person you are as well as who you want to be.”
Having personal experience with the hospice from the perspective of a family member was incentive for some of the volunteers as well. Jeremy Kaplan, 19, a criminal justice major, suffered the loss of a family member during his vulnerable teen years. Taking an active role at the wine tasting brought on some strong emotions.
“I appreciate this cause because it gives back to the community and because we can do it as brothers to support Amit,” Kaplan said. “But I know how much hospice care means when someone has the comfort to die at home with loved ones.”
David Lopez, 22, a junior math major, was only five when his grandfather died. His initial memories were those of a preschooler frightened by the sounds and sights of a busy hospital, and then grandpa being back at home. It didn’t matter that he was in a hospital bed in the living room with the rhythmic hissing of the oxygen tank.
“The people from the hospice foundation were kind enough to put him back in the home where we all grew up. It really helped my grandma, my mom and the rest of the family cope with the pain,” Lopez said. “So when I found out we were going to help out again this semester, I was the first to jump aboard.”
It’s been almost a year since Patel’s grandfather died. But on Friday night, he also had support from his family and his fraternity brothers, who gave up a Friday night to help raise money for a cause. It gave Patel the same comfort hospice provided for his grandfatherâ€”being surrounded by those who care.